Politics in a Hurricane

There is less than a week to go before the most consequential presidential election in generations, and the big story is the weather.

We wouldn’t want to downplay the significance of Hurricane Sandy, which has killed 50 people, severely disrupted the lives of millions, and caused untold billions of dollars of damage to beloved and irreplaceable property, and we sympathize with all of those who have been affected by the storm. Although the weather has been quite pleasant around here lately, those of us who live on the plains know all too well how very brutal nature can be.

Still, one hopes there will be some space left in the news for the election. Sandy’s winds seem to have blown all mention of the presidential race off the front pages and out of the newscasts, and that is a shame. As horrible as the storm has been, it is not at all hyperbolic to say that a second Obama term could be even more destructive.

What little attention has been paid to the presidential election in the past few days has mostly concerned how it might be affected by the storm. Some alarmists have fretted that Obama will somehow contrive to delay the election, which is too paranoid even for our tastes, but most of the speculation has concerned which candidate is most likely to benefit from the weather.

Any break from the news that has lately seen Mitt Romney surging in the polls is thought to be beneficial to Obama, a plausible theory, but the four years’ worth of unpleasant stories won’t be immediately forgotten and are bound to resurface once the campaigns resume today. There’s also a hope among the Democrats that Obama will seem more presidential when the helpful media broadcast images of him solemnly running the government’s response to the disaster, which is also plausible, and especially walking around the rubble with whatever elected officials can find time for him, but a president’s role in these affairs is mostly limited to signing orders to spend money and there have already been countless images of that. Every natural disaster now entails the usual cries about global warming, which is still considered an issue for the Democrats, but no one seems to pay them much heed any longer.

Another theory holds that Romney could benefit if lingering bad weather, power outages, road closings, and various clean-up chores keep large numbers of voters away from the voting booths. This strikes us as reasonable, given that Romney’s voters will crawl across broken glass on their knees to vote while Obama’s supporters seem to be less enthused these days, but the areas that are most likely to still be struggling through Election Day are in states that usually vote Democratic in any circumstances. There’s also a good possibility that Obama will blunder through the hurricane, or at least say something that reminds people of their pre-storm reasons for voting against him, and a good probability that at least some of the storm victims will be without electricity or have some other valid complaint on Election Day.

Here’s hoping that all who were affected by the storm recover quickly, and that any effect the storm has on the election will benefit the challenger. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as they say.

— Bud Norman

A Tale of Two Ads

Oh, what a difference four short years can make.

It was around this time back in the dark days of ’08 that we found our country in the grip of strange mania, an almost religious enthusiasm for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. In the mainstream press, throughout the popular culture, even at our favorite tavern, Obama was explicitly hailed as a messianic figure, an avatar that would lead the nation into a new era of hope and change. Even the schoolchildren were singing the praises of the secular savior.

That ad with the singing schoolchildren was especially disquieting. There was a queasy Kim Jon-Il feel about the spectacle of a choir of adorably toothy urchins serenading the dear leader with hymns of allegiance, their eyes filled with adoration as they gazed into a glorious future with the harmonized surety that “Obama’s gonna lead us.”

We were reminded of that creepy bit of political propaganda by the latest advertisement advanced on behalf of Obama’s campaign. Dubbed “A Message From the Children” and produced by one of the fancy-schmantzy Madison Avenue ad firms, the spot features a new batch of cute youngsters — the old ones presumably being too pubescent, acne-riddled, and wised-up by now — but with same appeal to the absolute moral authority of the not-yet-grown-up.

The earlier ad was filmed in warm, soothing, campaign-themed color, while the latest one is in a self-consciously serious black-and-white, and the difference in the two messages is similarly stark. There’s no mention at all of Barack Obama in the latest ad, much less any effort to extol his glory, but rather a dystopian vision of what life would be like if the other guy got elected. The children sing of a future in which strip mines abound, homosexuals are subject to draconian treatments, sick people are left to die, oil spills overrun the oceans, endless wars are fought, polar bears are eliminated, “Big Bird is sacked,” and there is “lots of Chinese stuff.” Except for the parts about Big Bird having to find a real job and the abundance of inexpensive imports it all sounds quite horrible, and the juvenile cast seems convincingly appalled about it as they sing to their Romney-leaning elders that “We’re kinda blaming you.”

The young’uns have the same chin-up air of moral superiority as their parents, and even seem to have somehow replicated the smug soprano self-righteousness of the old folk boom balladeers, so it will likely have some motivating effect on the aging segment of the country that remains committed to Obama’s presidency. Less clear is the effect it might have on the rest of the electorate, which might well recognize that the song’s caricature of the Republicans is utter nonsense and note the sharp contract with the earlier optimism of Obama’s political career. Gone is the utopian promise of the last campaign, replaced by an equally overstated pessimism about the alternative.

Such children’s horror stories might even work, at least well enough to eke out a victory next week, but somehow they don’t seem so frighteningly dangerous as the earlier juvenilia. Obama has devolved from a mass hysteria intent on the fundamental transformation of America into a niche-marketed advertising campaign to hang on to political power. Something so small, petty, and implausible isn’t likely to make a lasting difference in the character of nation, and the resulting gridlock and polarization might even give those poor kids a chance to figure things out.

— Bud Norman

The Elephant in the Room

In case you haven’t heard, the tragic tale of the Sept. 11 terror attack on America’s embassy in Libya keeps getting worse for Barack Obama.

Numerous news reports had already confirmed that the administration denied repeated requests from the embassy’s embattled staff for more security, that it knew the attack was a carefully planned terror strike even as it spent weeks telling the American public it was a spontaneous reaction to a little-known anti-Muslim video, and that it knew this even as the filmmaker was publicly scapegoated and imprisoned on the flimsiest of legal grounds. Now there is evidence that numerous cries for help were ignored even as the deadly attack occurred.

Worse yet, so far as the president’s reelection campaign is concerned, the story has a compellingly dramatic quality. The reports tell of the two former Navy Seals who defied orders to rush to the aid of the ambassador and his staff, and how they fought bravely and with remarkable ferocity while waiting for the help was that denied somewhere along the chain of the command before finally succumbing to the numerically superior forces. One of those heroes has a father who is bluntly outspoken and utterly believable, who tells of the crude remarks made to him by the vice president, the Secretary of State’s assurance that they would have an obscure filmmaker arrested for exercising his free speech rights as his retribution, and the president’s palpable lack of empathy.

It’s the sort of thing that would make all but the most determinedly partisan reconsider voting for Obama, but then again, maybe they haven’t heard. The Fox Network has done aggressive reporting on the story, the Associated Press has more quietly pursued, a few mainstream publications such as The Christian Science Monitor have also pitched in, and of course the conservative media have been doing their best to draw attention to the matter, but otherwise the press seems determined to ignore the issue as much as possible. None of the Sunday morning news shows but the one on Fox made any mention of the developing, The New York Times’ readers are almost entirely uninformed about what happened in Libya, and the rest of the national media seem to share the same strange lack of curiosity.

The president seems to be counting on the media’s help in ignoring the issue, and has thus far dodged the only question that has penetrated his schedule of interviews with friendly entertainment shows and local reporters. Still, the issue already seems too well known for the president to avoid it’s fallout altogether. Fox News is by far the most-watched news outlet on cable television, the combined audience of the various radio talk shows numbers in the tens of millions, other alternative add many more readers, and the people listening to these various sources tend to talk about politics to their more apolitical friends. Both the Gallup and Rasmussen polling firms show Obama’s approval ratings sliding precipitously since the story broke, and although some of that can surely be attributed to the president’s increasingly angry and insulting campaign the rest is likely a result of the Libyan fiasco.

By ignoring the controversy, and having his media allies do the same, Obama might even be exacerbating the political damage. The story is being told by people who see no reason to give Obama the benefit of any doubt, and if there’s a good explanation for all this it hasn’t been given.

— Bud Norman

Barnyard Rhetoric

Perhaps it’s a sign of advancing fogeyism, but we lately find ourselves yearning for a bygone era when political campaigns were conducted with proper decorum. There was always mud-slinging, dissembling, thuggery, and all manner of other unpleasantness, but at least the candidates could be counted on to refrain from cursing in the presence of children and mothers.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has thus far been as fastidiously proper as the man himself, but Barack Obama’s re-election bid has too often descended into vulgarity. Thursday’s news exposed yet another example. The offending party was Obama himself, who gave an interview with Rolling Stone in which he characterized his opponent with what its politely called a “barnyard epithet.” We’ll not re-state the word here, so let it suffice to say it’s a familiar term generally used to describe someone malodorously dishonest.

Lest we be accused of fuddy-duddiness we still stipulate that the term is relatively mild by today’s degraded standards, and confess that we have also employed it on a few occasions when in the company of rough men or the more worldly sorts of women, but it’s not the sort of language that one uses in the more respectable circles Rolling Stone’s high-brow readers presumably frequent. There have undoubtedly been previous presidents who used the term — Lyndon Johnson was famously foul-mouthed, Richard Nixon introduced the term “expletive deleted” to the lexicon, and one can only imagine what Andrew Jackson let loose with after a jug or two — but all were careful not to do so within earshot of the public.

Most of the president’s critics have focused on the rich irony of his using term to describe anyone else, and it certainly is audacious for the man who won office promising universal health care and middle-class tax cuts and endless entitlements while halving the deficit in four years to make such an accusation. More energetic scribes than ourselves are required to catalog all of the malodorous dishonesty that Obama has shoveled during his brief political career, from the phony-baloney cost figures he used to sell Obamacare to his false Libyan tale to the entirety of his self-written persona, but the critics’ point is well taken.

Still, let us also save a share of opprobrium for the language that he used. Such words are polluting the culture, and it cannot help this dire situation to give them a presidential imprimatur. The next grandfather who asks the loud young men at the next table to watch their language in the presence of children will have to contend with the argument that the president and vice-president have used the same words, and that is a shame that should not go unremarked.

The phrase was probably chosen by Obama with great care, and calculated to confer an aura of proletarian authenticity that will contrast with his opponent’s more patrician bearing. This should have a special appeal to more youthful voters, who seem unable to formulate a sentence without at least one obscene amplifier, but also to a leftist base that has reveled in foul language since at least the days of Lenny Bruce. For some reason the same people who find it appropriate for the government to dictate everything from one’s choice of light bulbs to an opinion regarding affirmative action or same-sex marriage bristle at mere social conventions regarding cursing.

Modernists scoff at the notion that degrading a culture’s language will wear away at the culture itself, but we suspect that the left counts on it doing so and that is the very reason they are so prone to such language. Old-fashioned notions such as politeness and propriety are bulwarks of an established order that must be destroyed in order to bring a new utopia, and that seems to be happening one word at time.

— Bud Norman

Try to Act Surprised

There were serious stories in the news Wednesday, such as the latest evidence that the Obama administration lied about the nature of the deadly attack on the American embassy in Libya, but it was nonetheless hard to ignore the latest antics of Gloria Allred and Donald Trump.

Two of America’s most shameless attention-seekers both garnered some coveted headlines in the midst of an important presidential election with much-hyped attempts at an “October surprise” on behalf of their preferred candidates. Although both succeeded in their primary objective of getting their names in the papers, neither is likely to have a significant effect on the race.

The latest ploy by Allred, a crusading feminist lawyer known for intruding herself into all manner of passing controversies, was to demand that a Massachusetts court unseal Mitt Romney’s testimony in a bitter divorce trial. This sounds titillating enough, except that it wasn’t the happily married Romney’s divorce, there is no suggestion that Romney had anything at all to do with the split, and his testimony only concerned the rather dull matter of the value of some stocks the estranged husband and wife were squabbling over. Romney’s assessment of the stocks seems to have cost the wife some money in the eventual settlement, leaving her with a continuing resentment of the Republican nominee, and Allred apparently hopes that scorned women everywhere will react by rushing to the polls to vote for Obama.

Romney’s reaction was to instruct his lawyer not to contest the matter, assuring the public that he was happy to let them read his testimony, then get back to the more serious business of reminding voters how many women remain unemployed in the era of Obamanomics. Given that Obama probably already has the high-society divorcee vote locked up, this seems a sound response.

Trump, the billionaire real estate developer and reality show star with the famously bad hair, grabbed his share of the spotlight with an offer to donate $5 million to a charity of Obama’s choice if Obama will only release his hermetically sealed college and passport records. There is speculation that the records will reveal Obama was admitted to Columbia as a foreign student and traveled abroad on a foreign passport, popular conspiracy theories that are plausible enough, but the more likely benefits of the gambit are to draw attention to Obama’s secretiveness about his past and raise doubts about what he might hiding.

We’ve not yet heard the Obama campaign’s response to Trump’s offer, if they’ve bothered to make one, but we expect the president will decide that his favorite charities can get along well enough without an extra $5 million. Obama’s campaign has bigger troubles than Donald Trump, including those new revelations about Libya, and the public will probably pay little attention to distractions.

— Bud Norman

That Obama is Sooooo Smart

Regular readers of this publication have no doubt noticed that we are not averse to sarcasm. Wielded effectively, sarcasm is an effective rhetorical device, can even achieve a satisfying literary quality, and often provides the added benefit of a healthful chuckle.

Such is our regard for sarcasm that it pains us to see it misused, as President Barack Obama has so often done over the past many years. In Monday night’s final presidential debate against Mitt Romney, for example, Obama employed sarcasm on several occasions to a disastrous effect.

The most celebrated incident occurred after Romney inveighed against Obama’s parsimonious defense budget proposals, rightly noting that they would leave the Navy with fewer ships than at any time since 1917 and well short of what the admirals have determined are necessary to fulfill their mission. Sneering like one of the late-night comedy show hosts that he so often hangs out with, Obama retorted that “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Reports indicate that the lines prompted a big cheer from press gallery, but it is unlikely that more objective observers were as enthusiastic. Reaction from the military was certainly unimpressed, with soldiers noting that both horses and bayonets have played a role in the war Obama has been prosecuting in Afghanistan, sailors noting that submarines are called “boats” in naval parlance, and almost everyone in uniform down to the lowliest “corpseman” wondering at what point in his career as a community organizer and adjunct law professor and hack politician Obama became such an expert military strategist. A majority of the civilian population probably had a similarly unfavorable reaction, with even the most militarily unsavvy doubting that such barbs would adequately substitute for a few cruisers or destroyers in wartime.

Worse yet, the line probably garnered few laughs outside the press room or the sweetly smoked living rooms of MSNBC’s paltry viewership. Sarcasm is a challenging art, and Obama fell short of its magnificent potential for reasons well known to the accomplished practitioner.

Sarcasm should only be deployed in appropriate circumstances, to cite but one rule that Obama disregarded. Except in the most unusual circumstances sarcasm should be eschewed at events such as funerals, elementary school awards presentations, baptisms, death bed visits, and presidential debates concerning matters of national security. Obama’s sneering screed seem petty and unserious, while Romney’s forbearance made him seem far more presidential.

Sarcasm should also be reserved for the most obvious fallacies, and one needn’t be a hard-core Romney supporter to see his argument made a serious point that warranted a serious response. The sarcasm was an insult not only to Romney, but to all those interested to hear a serious response from Obama.

Truly skewering sarcasm ends a debate on any point, but when it misses the remark it only invites a withering counterattack of sarcasms. So it was with Romney’s follow-ups that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” The gag belongs to a genre of jokes that was stale even by the time the “Seinfeld” program lampooned it million syndicated re-runs ago, presupposes that most voters will share its assumption that the peace-through-strength model that ended the Cold War is no longer relevant. Obama’s relentless Bush-bashing seems to have some popular appeal, but Reagan-bashing is offensive to the old folks and makes one seem something of a geezer to the young.

Similar sarcasm abounds in the Obama campaign, which has turned into a veritable stand-up routine of knee-slapping Big Bird and binder jokes, and the die-hard fans who still turn up at the rallies seem to eat it up. Lefties love their sarcasm, no matter how unskillful, so long as it’s aimed at the proper targets. The left’s obsession with sarcasm dates back at least to Saul Alinsky, the late leftist guru of community organizing whose “Rules For Radicals” advocated ridicule as a propaganda method, and it increasingly seems to be their favorite method of argument.

Lefty sarcasm can be effective, as Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and any number of other irrecoverably ridiculed conservatives will attest, but it seems unlikely to prevail against the sobering economic realities that are ever present in this election. Should this prove true, we’ll be eager to offer a witty “duh.”

— Bud Norman

The Strong and Silent Type

Mitt Romney went awfully easy on Barack Obama in Monday night’s presidential debate, by our thinking, but we suspect he had his reasons.

The most frustrating portion of the proceedings was the discussion of the Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya and its four resulting deaths, when Romney declined to mention the administration’s repeated denials of requests by the ambassador for more security, its weeks-long insistence on a false story that a little-known video had provoked the event, its outrageous imprisonment of the filmmaker and implied apology for the First Amendment, its continuing dissembling, the president’s callous description of the deadly attack as “not optimal” and “bumps in the road,” or any of several other disturbing aspects of Obama’s utter pooch-screwing in the matter. Similar punch-pulling marked Romney’s response to questions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, America’s commitment to Israel, and the likely dire consequences of the recent political upheavals in the Middle East.

Vexing as it was to listen to, we can see how such tactics effectively served a broader campaign strategy. The debate was devoted to foreign policy during an election dominated by economic issues, the two previous debates had likely sufficed for all the but the most politically enthused, and televised competition from professional football and the seventh game of the National League championship series had further reduced the audience, so Romney’s main objectives were to reassure the skittish womenfolk that presumably predominated in the audience that he’s not a bloodthirsty war-monger and avoid anything that would provide fodder for a ravenous press to exploit over the next few day’s worth of news stories.

He seems have to succeeded in both regards. As much as we would have loved to see Romney tear further into Romney’s failings, his lack of aggressiveness on the obvious points probably bolstered the amiably calm-and-steady persona that he displayed throughout the evening. If he made any glaring mistakes, the news reports that followed on brief news reports failed to highlight them.

Romney also scored a few points along the way, provoking some rather unpresidential behavior from the president. He rightly criticized the apologetic nature of Obama’s foreign policy, and when Obama rudely interrupted to dispute the allegation he was met with some verbatim quotes that most viewers will inevitably interpret as apologies for America’s past. When Romney rightly noted that Obama’s defense cuts have left the Navy with its fewest ships since 1917, Obama responded with a sarcastic explanation of how “we have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them,” implying that not only Romney but the Navy admirals that have requested an additional 38 ships lack a rudimentary understanding of naval strategy.

Although foreign policy was the announced topic of the debate, much of the debate was spent on the closely related topic of the economy. This allowed Obama to talk at length about hiring more teachers, which he seems to believe is the key to the economic recovery that has somehow eluded him the past four years, and Romney seized the opportunity to express his love for teachers even as he doubted that a few thousand more of them will somehow bring about full employment.

The more loyal of the legacy media’s pundits will no doubt proclaim Obama the victor by their pointless point-scoring methods, but Romney’s been rising in the polls ever since the last proclaimed debate victories by Obama and his running mate and we don’t expect this final round will change that.

— Bud Norman

The Second Term Around

A second term agenda has been conspicuously absent from Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. There’s been plenty of sneering criticism for some things that Mitt Romney has said he wants to do, far more sneering about some things that Obama falsely claims Romney wants to do, and a few small proposals such as the ever-popular soak-the-rich tax hikes, but nothing in the way of a grand scheme to fix the nation’s many lingering problems.

The oversight is so glaring that even the president’s most stalwart supporters have noticed, and some have gone so far as to suggest that he offer such a plan in order to bolster his recently declining electoral prospects. This seems reasonable enough, given the apparent difficulty of selling more of the same, but it’s hard to imagine what he might come up with that will woo back any lost voters.

Any plan released at this late date will naturally raise questions about why Obama has waited so very long to unveil it. Some will suspect that it was intended to avoid the critical scrutiny of the media, as if that would ever happen, while the most realistic skeptics will assume it a ploy to prevent Romney from having a go at it during the debates. Those still enamored of Obama will be thrilled with whatever he might come up with, but the rest of the country will immediately be wondering why he hadn’t attempted such a brilliant agenda to begin with. The plan would have to be rolled out in yet another Big Speech, as well, and there have been so many of those over the past four years that many Americans would pay it no mind.

Obama likely has a number of big ideas that he is eager to impose on the nation if given the opportunity, but probably has been keeping them to himself because he believes that they won’t be very popular. All of Obama’s ideas involve spending great gobs of money, a point that won’t be lost on a public that finally seems to be properly worried about the country’s mounting debt, and they always require an almost religious faith in governmental power that has lately become harder to sustain. Although Obama will occasionally hint at how very far left he would go when off the teleprompter, as in his infamous “you didn’t build that” oration, he has mostly tried to sustain an image of moderation.

Such reluctance to be frank has severely hindered Obama’s efforts to even tout the ideas he has proposed. When Obama was hammered about energy prices during the first debate he seemed itching to shout out that of course he had sought increases, that he had told people he would during the first campaign, and that everyone will someday be thanking him when we’re all driving on $20-a-gallon biofuels because he’s pumped the cost of Gaia-killing gasoline to $21 per gallon, and that if anyone out there didn’t like it they could just buy a Chevy Volt or leave the suburbs and live in the city like a real person. He restrained himself, of course, and offered an obviously bogus explanation of how much he truly loves gas and coal and all the fossil fuels, confident that his friends at the Sierra Club would know he was fibbing but hopeful that no one else would figure it out.

Perhaps if the election comes to seem out of reach Obama will at last unleash his inner radical, and go down with his full Alinskyite furor proudly on display. The true believers will love it, but the rest of the country will likely decide that Romney isn’t so scary after all. Expect to hear more sniping about Big Bird and binders, then, and any distraction available to keep you wondering from about what he really has in mind.

— Bud Norman

A Less Than Optimal Campaign

What a sorry state of affairs for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign when he can’t even go on the Daily Show without feeding another bad news cycle.

In the latest of a series of missteps, the president appeared Thursday on Jon Stewart’s cable television comedy program and described the murder of four Americans during a Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya as “not optimal.” The jarring understatement will likely be replayed on various other media, and repeatedly at the conservative outlets, which can’t be helpful to Obama’s cause.

The president’s many die-hard defenders will note that the questioner had introduced the term “optimal,” a slightly mitigating point, but it won’t spare him another day of damning headlines nor spare him the damage of the sound bite. Combined with the widely reported fact that Obama embarked on a fund-raising trip to Las Vegas in the immediate aftermath of the murders, the president’s description of the terror attack as a “bump in the road” during a later interview, and his many week’s of dissembling about the true nature of the incident, the latest statement is likely to bolster an ever more widely held impression that the president’s sympathy for the victims is, well, less than optimal.

Nor is the president in any position to complain that his critics are harping on a mere choice of words, having spent much of the day on harping on Mitt Romney’s brief mention during Tuesday’s debate of considering “binders full of women” while hiring workers during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. The president seemed to find this a most hilarious misstatement during Thursday’s stump speeching, as did several of the commentators at the friendlier cable news services, but after a day’s consideration we’re still unable to find exactly what’s wrong with Romney’s boast.

In a speech to a typically sycophantic crowd the president said that he doesn’t have to resort to binders to find qualified women to work for his administration, presumably because the resumes and background checks and other necessary paperwork are delivered on silver platters or some other such conveyance, but that only attests to Romney’s relative frugality. The tactic also provided unfriendly media such as this to remind readers that Obama’s White House has been described by a woman there as a “hostile workplace” and has a history of paying its women employees less than their male counterparts, and it’s unlikely that voters concerned with the dire state of the economy and the growing dangers of the international scene will agree that Romney’s admirable desire to find qualified women workers, through binders or any other means, are a more significant matter.

Let us hope that many voters will also be slightly irked by a reminder that Obama was appearing on the Daily Show. The appearance was in keeping with the president’s preference for presenting himself mainly on such lightweight programs as The View, Entertainment Tonight, and, as we never tire of mentioning, the Pimp With a Limp’s radio show. This schedule has solidified Obama’s standing as Celebrity in Chief, a title that probably impresses many people who won’t bother to find their way to the voting places, and while that might diminish his stature with the more serious-minded it usually has the compensating advantage of shielding the president from tough questions.

Stewart’s more awe-struck fans will insist that he’s a serious satirist in the tradition of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, and an influential conduit of the news to today’s youth, but he’s basically a guy who makes funny faces into the camera and flatters the pretensions of his slacker audience with sneers and snarkiness, and Obama had every reason to expect the usual gentle treatment. Indeed, Stewart’s unfortunate choice of the word “optimal” was seemingly intended to euphemize the situation as much as possible, making it all the more embarrassing that Obama was somehow able to turn it into a snippet for an upcoming Romney ad.

Tuesday’s debate was supposed to be the turning point for Obama’s recently besieged campaign, but all they got out of it was the futile efforts to exploit Romney’s binders, and more harm from the ongoing Libyan fiasco. One word won’t change the campaign, whether it’s “optimal” or “binders,” but there seems to be a cumulative effect of Obama’s self-inflicted wounds.

— Bud Norman

Learning to Like Mitt

Mitt Romney’s greatest appeal to his supporters at the outset of his campaign, to be perfectly honest, was that he was not Barack Obama. That remains Romney’s biggest selling point, to continue with the honesty shtick, but lately we’ve noticed that his supporters seem to like him because of who he is almost as much as because of who he is not.

There are polling data to bolster this impression, but mostly it has been formed by listening to alternative media and conversations with a variety of the regular folks we routinely encounter. Our own growing regard for Romney is part of it, too, as we were as skeptical as anyone at the start of his presidential quest.

We rabid right-wing sorts were initially put off largely because of that health care bill Romney championed while governor of Massachusetts, a government-heavy that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the hated Obamacare bill, but also by the fact that he had once stooped so low as to serve as the governor of Massachusetts. Such failings would ordinarily disqualify a person from the Republican presidential nomination, but as it became clear over the course of an embarrassing primary campaign that the more consistently conservative alternatives were unlikely to survive the inevitable attack ads and media caricatures he was reluctantly chosen as standard-bearer. Not a single Republican of our acquaintance thought he was worse than the incumbent, not by a long shot, but neither was there any enthusiasm for the ticket.

Gradually, though, Romney seems to have won over his party’s base. The ivy-covered conservative media based on the east coast were on board all along, but eventually even the proudly disreputable voices of talk radio began to stop nit-picking and start praising their candidate. The hugely influential Rush Limbaugh is now an unabashed fan, and Mark Levin, the unbearably dour talker who is usually even more scathing toward anyone not 99 and 44/100ths percent pure than he is toward the actual enemies, has also lately been laying off the criticism. Numerous chats with bona fide grassroots types have revealed a similar growing approval, with our most reluctant right-wing friends now expressing a genuine admiration for Romney.

The transformation began with Romney’s bold choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a clear signal that he understood the severity of the nation’s fiscal problems and the need for politically risky solutions, but we sense that the candidate’s forthright defense of capitalism, the Constitution, and an old-fashioned Americanism has been even more important. Most conservatives have a keen sense of a candidate’s sincerity, and Romney’s background in business makes his paeans to the free market utterly believable in a way that Obama’s recent praise of capitalism do not.

In a rather neat trick, Romney seems to have solidified his conservative support while simultaneously winning over those incomprehensible moderate types who are often thought to be scared silly by conservatism. Because the change appears to have occurred since the first debate, which drew an unusually large audience, we’ll attribute this to the dangerously uninformed getting a first-hand look at Romney and noticing that he bears little resemblance to the demonic figure portrayed in the Obama campaign’s over-the-top negative advertising. They might have also noticed that he’s a strikingly intelligent, competent type, qualities that have as much appeal to middle-of-the-roaders as to conservatives, and that he’s been remarkably pleasant even as he endures the obvious efforts of the media to suggest otherwise.

Romney obviously hasn’t endeared himself to the president’s most stubbornly loyal supporters, of course, and instead has begun to provoke the same sort of red-hot hatred that was once reserved for the likes of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. That’s a good sign, too, though, because it suggests that Romney’s rising popularity has them scared.

— Bud Norman